With 700C wheels, wide-range gears, flat bars and cantilever or disc brakes, hybrids are midway between road and mountain bikes. They're the UK's most common and best-selling bike type.
The upright riding position makes them great for traffic, and for leisurely rides in the country — slow down and sniff the flowers.
Oddly few hybrids come with practicalities like mudguards and rack. Budget £50-100 for them and get them fitted when you buy the bike. You'll be glad you did.
These bikes are inexpensive transport par excellence, paying for themselves in just a few months if you live in a major city.
[This article was last updated on December 7, 2017]
Hybrids are Britain's most popular style of bike because they're practical, comfortable urban transportation that's also ideal for pootling round the lanes or exploring forest roads at the weekend.
The name comes from a design style that bridges mountain bikes and road bikes. A hybrid typically has the upright riding position and flat bars of a mountain bike, but the skinny tyres and 700C wheels of a road bike.
Within that description there's a lot of variation. At one end of the scale are flat-bar road bikes, which as the description suggests have the very skinny tyres and lightweight, close-coupled frames of a road bike, but with a flat bar. Just the thing for zooming through sun-drenched Tuscan lanes, if not so great for rainy, potholed British city streets.
Fatter tyres with deeper treads are more common though, and usually provide grip and cushioning that make these bikes really versatile. You can easily take a hybrid places where you'd hesitate to ride a road bike, or where very skinny tyres need a high level of skill and care. Canal towpaths, forest roads and easier singletrack trails are all accessible.
As transport, hybrids often come with accessories that other bikes lack — even relatively practical ones like cyclocross-styled urban bikes. It's common to get mudguards, a rack and even dynamo lighting in the package, which can save you a big chunk over buying them separately.
Hybrids are great budget transport. You can pick one up for less than £150, and by the time you get up the price range to around £300 there are some really quite nice bikes.
Bung even a £300 bike on Cycle To Work Scheme and you'll barely notice the payments disappearing from your pay packet. In fact, in many cities, you'll be better off. Compared to a London Zone 1-3 Travelcard at £144.80 per month, a £154.00 Bristol City peak travelcard or a Cambridge Megarider Plus bus ticket for £92, the repayments for a hybrid are trivial.
An earlier version of this article included Tesco's Vertigo Tambora as a bike that was okay if just over £100 was really all you could afford. However, that bike is no longer available, and when it was last listed it was £220, which is an extraordinary price for a low-spec bike you have to assemble yourself. If your budget is that limited, you're far better off buying second hand.
Let's take a look at some of your best budget choices in flat-bar bikes.
Here's a typical sub-£200 hybrid with a steel frame, 700C wheels, and mudguards. This one's very much a bike for flat terrain, with just a six-speed transmission, so don't plan any Lake District ascents, but it'll serve you fine in central London, York or Cambridge.
The Belmont and Elyse both have aluminium frames, mudguards, chainguard and rack, making them very practical urban and picnic transport. Halfords provides a free service after six weeks, and will put the bike together for you.
Like virtually all bikes under the £300 mark, both have Shimano gears. In this case they're operated by twist-grip shifters, which control an 18-speed transmission for a wide range of gears.
We've linked above to the Belmont. The women's Elyse is here. At the nominal full price they're a shade espensive, but they are often substantially discounted so keep an eye on the price tag for changes.
Unlike most hybrids, this pothole-basher has mountain bike size 650B/27.5in wheels, with lightly treaded tyres for round-town speed.
The aluminium frame is hung with a Shimano gear set, combining a triple up front with seven out back for a big range of gears. It's a decent deal at £300, but it's been as low as £240, so if you're not in a hurry it's worth keeping an eye on the price.
Because French-based sport superstore chain Decathlon sells bikes all over the Continent, its town bikes are tailored for European tastes, which means the Hoprider 300 has a feature that's rare on UK-specced bikes: dynamo lighting.
The lights are powered by a generator in the front hub so they're always ready when you need them.
You also get a gel saddle, mudguards and rack and the Shimano Altus mechs are a notch up in quality over the gears found on cheaper bikes.
There's even a kickstand for convenient parking. It's all very Euro, and that's a good thing.
Raleigh unabashedly bills this as a European-style bike, saying: "On the continent people use their bikes everyday; cycling is not a leisure activity but a significant mode of transport. The bikes they ride are not built for speed but comfort and practicality and the Raleigh Circa line is this style of bike."
After decades of UK bike companies saying it was hard to sell this sort of full-equipped bike here, we hope this is a sign that more riders are waking up to their sheer practicality.
The frame's aluminium, as you'd expect and the 21-speed gear set shifts with basic but functional Shimano Tourney derailleurs controlled by EZ Fire trigger shifters.
The B'Twin Hoprider 520 comes with everything you need to pootle round town, to the office or the shops or just round the park for exercise. It's not the lightest hybrid ever, but it's very well specced for the money.
Off the peg, the Hoprider 520 comes with hub-powered lighting front and rear, mudguards, rack and kickstand. That's a great set of accessories for a hybrid (too often they're just a bare bike) and really makes this bike an excellent choice for commuting and other practical riding.
The model up from the Hoprider 300, it has a suspension fork and seatpost to improve comfort over rough ground, and the transmission takes a step up in quality to eight-speed Acera.
Less obvious, but very welcome, it also comes with Continental Touring Plus puncture-resistant tyres and trigger shifters rather than the twist-grips of the cheaper model. You even get a fairly decent set of metal-bodied pedals, a significant step up from the resin-bodied jobs found on most budget bikes.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.